If you have any doubt about what Democrats think of their keynote speaker tonight, San Antonio mayor Julian Castro, take a gander at this cover image from the San Antonio Current, one of the alternative weeklies out there:
Beside the C in the style of the Obama logo, in case you can’t read the small print at the bottom, it says, “CASTRO FOR (insert here)”.
When convention organizers announced Castro would be their keynote speaker, I took a look at his record . . . and found little to cheer about in his three years as mayor:
When Democrats announced that San Antonio mayor Julián Castro would deliver the keynote address of the 2012 party convention, the media’s comparisons of the mayor to President Obama intensified: a little-known, charismatic member of a minority group, getting a big opportunity to address his party and the country — perhaps a steppingstone to the highest of offices.
In fact, Castro’s dramatic debut on the national stage seems almost preordained: In May 2010, The New York Times Magazine ran a lengthy profile portraying Castro as “The Post-Hispanic Hispanic Politician,” with explicit comparisons to President Obama and predictions that he will be the first Hispanic president of the United States. NPR notes he’s been called “the great Latino hope.” CNN’s Soledad O’Brien featured Castro in a documentary about Latinos in America. He’s given a TED talk on “The Power of Education: How It Changed My World.”
Castro is indeed a lot like the Barack Obama of 2004: a subject of endless glowing media profiles, touted as the voice of an entire ethnic group, charisma by the bucketful . . . and a short record of quite modest achievements. The vast majority of the discussion about Castro focuses on his enormous potential and what is to come, not on his accomplishments and what he has done.
That is not an accident. Castro was elected by a populace facing serious problems, and in his time in office, the city has made very little measurable progress in addressing those problems.
Today and tomorrow, every morning paper/newsweekly/politico will run their Castro profiles, and almost all of them will include the same five or six things:
He’s a rising star.
Stanford undergrad! Harvard Law! Swoon!
Hispanics are a growing demographic.
He’s so young! Obama asked if he was an intern, tee-hee!
His complicated heritage (here they’ll soft-pedal his mother).
He went up against Charles Barkley to defend his city’s reputation!
But as Representative Bobby Rush asked of congressional candidate Barack Obama, “What’s he done?” It is kind of creepy to see just how many hurrahs and hosannas a politician can generate without actually doing much of anything, particularly on bread-and-butter issues like crime and education. If a Castro defender wants to argue he’s only been in office three years, fine . . . but that just raises the question of why an unaccomplished mayor is giving the keynote address. It’s like watching the Obama playbook from 2004 all over again . . .
UPDATE: For those not familiar with Rosie Castro, the mayor’s mother:
She handles her ‘First Mom’ status with quiet equanimity, pausing to smile and greet all passersby. When I ask her which one of her sons will become President, she smiles mischievously, “You mean which one will become President first?”
And there, dear reader, is one of the savviest politically correct answer of the year. Enjoy!
“I was born in San Antonio and I’ve lived here my whole life. I was an only child, raised by my mother, who emigrated from San Luis Potosí, Mexico when she was 8. Mom died the year Julián and Joaquín graduated from Stanford. I grew up in the neighborhood around Culebra and Zarzamora, near the Little Flower Basilica. I moved a couple of times when the boys were younger but we spent their junior high to high school years living right by St. Mary’s University. They both graduated from Jefferson High.”
“At the time I was growing up, Mexican-American women weren’t typically involved in politics. When I attended Our Lady of the Lake, I had a mentor, Dr. Margaret Kramer, who introduced me to a lot of local politicians. I got involved with the Young Democrats and later became chair of the Bexar County Raza Unida Party for a time. I ran for city council in 1971 with the ‘Committee for Barrio Betterment.’ I didn’t win but I learned a very valuable lesson: I’m a good organizational person. I like working behind the scenes and pulling it together.
From the Times profile of the mayor:
She was born in San Antonio in 1947 to an immigrant mother who didn’t get past fourth grade; she didn’t meet her father till she was 34. To Rosie, the Alamo is a symbol of bad times. “They used to take us there when we were schoolchildren,” she told me. “They told us how glorious that battle was. When I grew up I learned that the ‘heroes’ of the Alamo were a bunch of drunks and crooks and slaveholding imperialists who conquered land that didn’t belong to them. But as a little girl I got the message — we were losers. I can truly say that I hate that place and everything it stands for.”
To Julian Castro’s credit, when your mother hates the Alamo and you are elected mayor of San Antonio twice, you have some serious campaigning skills.
UPDATE: Chuck Kerr, the artist at Current who created the memorable image above, invites Campaign Spot readers to build their own Castro campaign posters, proudly endorsing the mayor for President, Governor, Senator, Mayor, Jedi Master, or ‘Top Chef’ contestant.